Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Story Trail: Kentucky and Fairmont

It's been a storied month for this old lady. Typically I have a few events in November but this year really piled them on and it's been a fun ride.

The Kentucky Storytelling Conference was outstanding as always. Part of my commitment to storytelling is to connect with storytellers in the states in my region, either online or face-to-face when possible. I much prefer face-to-face, of course, and conferences are one way to see and hear other tellers and maintain relationships that otherwise must rely on computer communications.

Jo Ann Dadisman and I traveled together and we had a great time. She was presenting this year, while I was simply going to get new ideas, hear great stories, and see friends. It's rare for me to go to a conference at which I don't have any responsibilities, and it was fun to just sit back and do what I wanted for a change. The workshop on using all five senses in a story echoed what I have taught myself but as always there were new ideas and things to be learned. I also attended Jo Ann's session on developing stories from family history; I have been telling more family stories in recent years and Jo Ann was right on target with her suggestions for breathing life into the people of the past. I actually sat out one session, taking a break to do a little writing and take a short nap. I was definitely into making this a leisurely experience!

The story swaps at the Kentucky conference are some of the best I've ever attended and I was a happy listener, preferring for once not to tell myself. One of the most intriguing things about storytelling is how unique each teller is in their method of presentation--how they use their voice, gestures, body language, eye contact, and words to shape what they want the audience to see (both actually and mentally) and remember. Young, old, fat, skinny, tall, short are all unimportant in storytelling--how a teller makes his/her story compelling and involving is key. So an evening of storytelling is constantly stimulating and surprising because the audience usually does not know just what the next teller will do.

On our way home, Jo Ann and I hammered out the details for the workshop and concert we were hosting the next weekend. It was a good thing we had that car time because we had a lot of loose ends to tie up!

It all came together in the end though. We had a fantastic concert, one where the performances dovetailed so neatly together that it seemed as if we'd all rehearsed together, which of course we did not (storytellers rarely do that). I MC'd the evening concert that featured our workshop presenter Susan Gordon, poet Kirk Judd, Jo Ann and me. We had lots of volunteer help to handle refreshments and book/CD sales, and the Folklife Center at Fairmont State University was a perfect venue. Dr. Judy Byers made us at home in her facility and did everything she could to make things go well. I was thrilled to see old friends Bob McWhorter and Betty Bea Cox, who were the moving forces behind the first West Virginia storytelling festivals, and who got many storytellers, myself included, started on the right path.

The workshop was fascinating. Susan Gordon led us through exercises that led us deep into the heart of the stories we brought to the class. I was startled to find new insights into a story I have loved since childhood but never told. There were several in the class who were new to storytelling and that was exciting. We were very happy that we had full registration for this workshop and it makes me want to plan another in the future. Success breeds energy, doesn't it?

I returned home Saturday evening tired but very satisfied, with a new story that will soon be added to my repertoire. The best part of all was having time with other storytellers. It is, after all, the people in our lives who make it all worthwhile, and I soaked up their creativity and excitement as fuel for my own storytelling fire.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tellabrations! Two and Three

I have been Tellabration-crazy this year. Tellabration began as a day set aside for the celebration of storytelling, to be held the Saturday before the US holiday of Thanksgiving. it was intended as a day for storytellers to give back to their communities; most events are free but any money collected was to go back to a storytelling guild or other means to support storytelling.

Then the idea caught on, and events spread from the US to worldwide, and the dates spread too. Tellabration now covers most of a month with events all over the globe, and in my area there were three within driving distance. I've not been able to participate much in recent years so this year I decided to take part in as many of the scheduled events as possible. The first was held in October as part of WVU's Mountaineer; the second was this past Thursday evening in Athens, Ohio, and the third was Saturday, on the original Tellabration day, in Beckley, WV. The Beckley event is the longest-running of the three, having been in existence since at least 1997 when I participated for the very first time (and was terrified!).

I wrote about the WVU Tellabration earlier, so I'll catch up now with the other two. The Athens event was held at the Athens County library, in an inviting, open setting that allowed patrons to listen as they checked out books and did other work in the library. Three women and three men told tales and sang songs. I was the only out-of-stater, but I am really just over the river from Ohio so I feel part of the storytelling scene there. It was a good night with good stories and a relaxed atmosphere.

Then Saturday I drove down to Beckley, about 2 1/2 hours south of home. Larry had intended to go with me originally as we were invited to stay at the home of storytelling friend Danny McMillion, but he was nursing a cold, and my oldest son and grandson were arriving for hunting season, so Larry opted to stay home by the fire and play host to our visitors until I returned.

The event was held at Tamarack, West Virginia's premier arts and crafts showcase. I was mesmerized by the displays of gorgeous artisan glass.

The staff at Tamarack were putting up trees and other decorations and the place was looking beautiful.

The telling was Spectacular! Sue Atkinson, a transplanted southerner with a soft Georgia accent, was out MC.

Terry Farley
Terry Farley led us off with his hilarious comedy, songs and jokes. What a funny man he is! Then Scott Hill told us about his son's quest to be a professional team mascot, I told a story from my husband's childhood in a coal camp and sang a ballad or two,

Fred Powers followed me with stories from his 20-year experience as a coal miner,
and John Wyatt wrapped up the show with songs and stories from his days working for a West Virginia Railroad. It was just perfect, and the audience showed their delight by staying afterward to talk with us and thank us for the stories. 

The Greenbrier cafe's tree
We stayed to eat dinner in the cafe run by the Greenbrier resort, delicious food and good conversation making a good end to the day. Then I followed my friend Danny to her lovely vintage home and more good conversation followed. She made me an awesome breakfast the next morning and I was soon homeward bound.

Stories, stories. They wrap our world, explain our world, make us laugh and cry, and teach us compassion and joy. Where would we be without them?

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Story of Reunion--44 Years After Vietnam

They were born and raised on opposite sides of the country, one in a coal camp in West Virginia, the other in his Native American community near the coast of Oregon. Their upbringing was similar, however--large extended family close buy, little money, simple living in poorly built homes, hard work, grandmothers who quilted and put up food in root cellars.

At eighteen each joined the U.S. Marin Corps. At nineteen both found themselves in Vietnam. The two became close friends; They went out on patrol together, faced danger together and got into all kinds of comical scrapes, most of their own making. They went down tunnels, went on search-and-destroy missions, shared the condition called "jungle rot" that sent one to the hospital.

In early February 1971 one of them got orders that he was to pack his things, turn in his weapons and get on the bus. His deployment was over and it was time to go home. He had only minutes to get ready, and there was no time to say goodbye to his friend. As he rode away on the bus, he realized he didn't even know his buddy's name--they used nicknames for everyone, and all he knew his friend as was "Indian."

Fast forward 44 years to this thing we call the Internet, and to the thing on the Internet called Facebook. One day I received a friend request from a man I did not know, and I was going to delete the request when I saw a message from this same man. The message said, "I think your husband served with my father in Vietnam. Ask him if he remembers a man they called Indian."

 And so my husband Larry and his old friend Reyn Leno of the Grand Ronde tribe were re-united. They talked on the telephone and communicated online and then last week, Reyn Leno came to West Virginia.

He spent three days with us, and it was as if the two of them just picked up the conversation where they had left off 44 years earlier.

We had an amazing time; lots of conversation, catching up on families and laughing as they told of some of their misadventures in Vietnam. Reyn brought Larry a warrior's medal, made by a member of his tribe from shells and beads in the colors of the Vietnam medal.

Two of my sons joined us for dinner one evening, and more stories flowed between all four of these veterans.

Reyn signing the visitor's book in the Governor's office
at the WV State Capitol

Larry and Reyn toured the West Virginia Capitol building and state museum, and traveled down to Olcott to see the place where Larry grew up.
In the Capitol Rotunda

Through the gates to the airplane. Goodbye, Reyn!
It was hard to say goodbye, but it was only au revoir, really. This coming summer we will visit the Grande Ronde reservation at Reyn's invitation, to meet his family, see his part of the country and take part in the tribe's annual Veterans Memorial Pow Wow. I can't wait to go, and I know Larry can't wait to see his friend again. The two of them shared the worst life has to offer, and now, they're sharing the best.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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